Ascending
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Now is the most important role of your life

by Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

Anyone who works in Hollywood knows that no movie or television show can be successful without advance preparation, reflection, and planning. Actors have to research characters to take on the personality, locations have to be scouted, and stages have to be set – all before the story can become real and the viewers can see the transformation. And, the truth is, real life is no different and the time for preparation or whom we will become is upon us!

Like with any exciting and anticipated moment of our lives, the Jewish tradition urges us to count down, to not allow the moment to ascend on us in surprise. So, we use these weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the days of the month of Elul, to begin the process of teshuvah – of return, of repentance, and of turning back to the essence of who we are and who we can become. An invitation is being given to take steps to take on the personality, values, and behaviors of the character we want to be, even if we are not yet there.

Each day, the shofar is sounded – calling us to action, reminding us that the moments to be truthful with ourselves and with God will soon be here. And, throughout the month – morning and night, we also recite the special Psalm for the season, Psalm 27, in which we say: “Show me Your way, Adonai, and lead me on a level path because of my ever watchful foes.” Recognizing that we cannot rely only on ourselves, we turn to God to help restore our lives to order, knowing that all it takes is a slight turn to point us in a new direction.

As Rabbi Kerry Olitzky reminds us in his book Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days, lest we be fooled, we need to recognize that the path is neither short nor direct. It is for this reason that we start our process during the month of Elul, and we continue knowing that it is a long journey and however long it takes, we have to be willing to travel the journey.

A rabbinic story wonders what God had been doing since the creation of the world. “Making ladders for people to ascend and descend.”

Each of us knows what it is like to go both directions: climbing, teetering, falling.

Our sages of old claimed that our ancestors could not have entered Canaan were it not for the Egyptian enslavement. Perhaps they were right; only when we were ready for freedom could we make our way through the desert to the Promised Land.

And what did we learn in the desert? That there are some enemies who want us to stumble and fall, but God wants us to right ourselves and continue. So, shouldn’t we want that for ourselves?

There is so much to think about and so much to do to get ready. To get us started in becoming the people we want to be, I invite you to think of this month as the time before the most important role of your life. Be the actor researching your new and improved character, direct the production that tells the story of who you hope to be, and/or set the stage for the greatest opening of your life, as you ask: from what and to what do I need to turn? Where am I on the ladder and how can I continue to ascend? Who and what are the ‘enemies’ inside of me that block my path, and what do I need to do to overcome them to really see the path God has in mind for me?

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

About Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz is Associate Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. In addition to her work at AJU, Rabbi Peretz has served as a pulpit rabbi in Los Angeles area synagogues such as Sinai Temple, Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, and Temple Emanuel El in Burbank. During her post college years, she had a full-time career in marketing consulting for Fortune 500 companies. And, she finds great meaning and purpose in the many messages of television and movies!

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